Film Festival Season Begins

Film Festival Season Begins featured image

by Marc Glassman

Reel Artists Film Festival
Feb. 26-March 1

Screening location: Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, Al Green Theatre; 750 Spadina at Bloor. (the opening night gala was at the AGO)

The sixth annual Reel Artists Film Festival was launched successfully last night at the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Baillie Court. A project of the Canadian Art Foundation’s Executive Director Ann Webb, the festival counts on the support of Toronto’s arts community and its sponsors and patrons. The opening night — a gloriously swishy affair with celebs like actress Arsinée Khanjian and architect Bruce Kuwabara in attendance — was filled to the brim with people who are culturally positive and, likely, recession-proof.

The gala film, Herb and Dorothy, which will be screened again on Sunday, is a must-see if you like art at all. It’s a wonderfully well- structured non-fiction feature on the Vogels, New York’s most famous art collectors. The noteworthy thing about Herb and Dorothy Vogel is that they aren’t rich; in fact, you could barely call them middle-class. Yet they have collected important contemporary art since the mid-‘60s, amassing a collection that is worth millions.

Despite being a lifetime employee at the post office, Herb Vogel’s entire life has been dedicated to art, which he studied and attempted to practice as a young man. When he and his wife Dorothy, a career librarian, realized quite quickly that neither was going to become an important painter, they abandoned the métier and decided to become collectors. Living in a rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan and using Dorothy’s salary for their necessities, the duo spent all of Herb’s income on art.

Concentrating on minimal and conceptual art, the Vogels collected a who’s-who of the New York scene including Lawrence Weiner, Christo and Sol LeWitt. More than that, they became friends of the artists and became recognized as cultural figures themselves. By the ‘80s, the Vogels had become celebrities, beloved for their quirky, all-abiding passion for art — and for their love of each other.

Director Megumi Sasaki captures the Vogels’ story in all of its complexity in Herb and Dorothy. Another director — and video artist — Isaac Julien has created an intimate biographical picture in Derek. Trained as a painter, British artist Derek Jarman emerged as an insurrectionary film artist in the late ‘70s with the punk film Jubilee, which featured Adam Ant and Amyl Nitrate. Stylish, brave and innovative, Jarman asserted his gay — but street-tough — sensibility in such tragic pro-homo bio-films as Caravaggio, Wittgenstein and Edward the Second.

Along the way, he discovered Tilda Swinton, the Oscar-winning actress — and her iconic presence lit up films even when she played the villain. Julien, an exceptional artist in his own right, worked closely with Swinton — who appears frequently in the film — to create a moving and quite visual approach to Jarman’s story. By the early ‘90s, Jarman had full-blown AIDS and went blind. Refusing to stop creating, his last film Blue is essentially an extended radio monologue with sound f/x, all played to Jarman’s favourite shade of blue. Sounds crazy, but the film is remarkably effective. Soon afterward, Jarman died. Isaac Julien is a worthy tribute to the artist — and the man.

Another successful Reel Artist entry is General Idea: Art, AIDS and the fin de siècle. Made by Annette Mangaard, this moving film documents the lives, career and demise of local art star trio General Idea who became international celebrities before two of them succumbed to the HIV virus in the ‘90s. Their last major project, using the letters for AIDS in exactly the same manner as Robert Indiana’s famous ‘60s LOVE posters, has become an identifiable global image.

Artists are the focus of this festival — making it different than other film events, which concentrate on cinema first. With Reel Artists, the subjects are the royalty — whether it’s Ellsworth Kelly, Antony Gormley or Alice Neel. If you endorse that notion, Reel Artists is made for you.

Kingston Canadian Film Festival
Feb. 25-March 1

Screening locations: The Empire and The Screening Room.

The 9th annual Kingston Canadian Film Festival is notable for its enthusiastic local support, special guests and extraordinary attention to the culture of this country. Canadians made all of the films screened over the five-day event — and each work, whether short, long, documentary or fiction, stars other Canucks. Sounds obvious, but sadly this festival is a unique event.

Naturally, many of the films screened in Kingston this weekend premiered here in T.O. last fall —Real Life, Toronto Stories, Deepa Mehta’s Heaven on Earth and the philosophical doc Examined Life, to name a few of the festival’s potential hits. But a couple — RiP: A Remix Manifesto and One Week — will be released in Toronto over the next few weeks, after Kingston’s festival has concluded.

Over the weekend, special guest TV producer and doc director Peter Raymont returns to his alma mater, Queen’s, to conduct a panel discussion on how to make a successful TV series — like his own Borders. Kari Skogland will present a Master Class workshop on directing as well presenting her film Fifty Dead Men Walking. And B-movie director Lee Demarbre is scheduled to introduce Vampiro, his new doc on Lee Hodgkinson, a Canadian wrestler — maybe not Mickey Rourke, but a real guy, not an actor.

The Kingston festival is wholly deserving of accolades — at least from this unashamed Canadian nationalist.

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